ALLSTON, Mass., June 25, 2010 — The good news is that the Boston Breakers scored. The bad news is that they lost...again.
The Chicago Red Stars won at Harvard Stadium for the second time this season on Friday night, beating the Breakers 2-1 and continuing Boston's nearly season-long tailspin.
The loss extended Boston's winless streak to nine games—the Breakers haven't won since the opening match of the season in Washington—and also stretched the team's number of home losses to four in a row.
Chicago bossed the Breakers in the first half, dominating possession and ripping apart a Boston backline that leaked like a BP oil rig.
In the first minute of the match, Chicago forward Ella Masar gave a preview of things to come, just failing to get on the end of a cross in front of goal and narrowly missing out on tallying for the first time this season.
Eight minutes later, energetic Chicago midfielder Karen Carney lashed a shot from the right wing, only to see debutante Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher push her effort over the bar.
"I think that during the first half we were second to the ball," Breakers forward Kelly Smith said. "We were trying to press, but it just did not work. We just came out flat. I don’t know why. It was very frustrating for myself and all the other players."
Chicago's breakthrough was always coming, and in the 12th minute Masar opened her account for the 2010 Red Stars.
She latched on to a ball at the edge of the Boston penalty area and, all alone with no Breakers defender near her, chipped a shot over Naeher and into the back of the net.
"I think the ball got lucky and got through," a modest Masar said.
Chicago had an immense amount of space to work with in the first half, something Carney attributed to the Red Stars' ball movement.
"We moved the ball really quickly, so we created a lot of space," Carney said.
For Chicago, it didn't hurt that Boston's defense was particularly dire in the first half. Breakers center backs Amy LePeilbet and Chioma Igwe were unable to hold their line and were constantly vulnerable to runs down the center of the pitch by strikers Masar and Christiane, as well as to crosses from Chicago's wingers.
Boston coach Tony DiCicco expressed frustration with his central defense. Of the first Chicago goal, he said: "LePelbet went up to challenge in the air one of their best headers, Christiane. And our other center back, Igwe, needs to drop in. The goalkeeper cannot handle this space, and if she has to handle this space, that’s what happens."
At the half-time whistle, the Breakers looked disinterested in the match at best and a total wreck at worst. But shortly after the restart, Fabiana gave the home team a glimmer of hope.
In a fantastic individual effort, the Brazilian forward notched her first-ever WPS goal, streaking in on goal to meet a left-wing cross from Laura Del Rio and poking the ball past Chicago goalkeeper Jillian Loyden.
It was Boston's only real moment of brilliance; the Breakers managed just four shots and two shots on goal for the match.
The Breakers looked more energetic in the second half but failed to find a go-ahead goal. (The team has now scored just seven goals in 10 games this season and three goals in their last seven games.) The match was a bit chippy throughout, with referee Jennifer Bennett doling out three yellow cards to each side.
Any hope Boston had of scoring a first home win in 2010 disappeared with Masar's second goal of the night, which she racked up in the 79th minute. With Naeher well off her line and Boston's backline once again in total disarray, Masar lobbed a long-range shot into the back of an empty net.
The 3,647 fans gathered at Harvard Stadium fell into silent disbelief, and their team failed to rouse them in the last 10 minutes of the match.
"We are hemorrhaging bad goals," DiCicco said. "We were just making it easy for them to score. We’ve got to stop giving away easy goals."
As for Chicago, coach Omid Namazi, hired in June to replace Emma Hayes, expressed satisfaction with his team's effort.
"I think it was one of our best efforts since I have become coach," Namazi said. "We came out with a lot of energy and put a lot of pressure on them. I give our girls a lot of credit because at the end Boston put a lot of pressure on us and they were trying to get that tying goal, but we were able to get numbers behind the ball and defend."
The Breakers, though, could very well find themselves in last place in the WPS table . Atlanta is one point behind Boston with a match in hand.
The Red Stars are third from last themselves and have played one more match than Boston, but they have a five-point lead on the Breakers and are encroaching on mid-table clubs Sky Blue FC and Washington Freedom.
Carney, who struggled through a rough 2009 season with Chicago, felt some sympathy for her team's opponent.
"I know exactly how [the Breakers] feel," Carney said. "We couldn't buy a win last season. They need to pick themselves up."
The Breakers will get a chance to do just that on July 4 at Philadelphia. Boston will play its next home match on July 11 at 6 p.m., against Atlanta.
Steven Apostolov and Lee Pender are co-authors of the Boston Breakers Report blog.